[Ezekiel 18: 25-26; Psalm 25; Philippians 2:1-11; Matthew 21: 28-32]
Over the last number of years, I have had the great blessing of sitting down many times with Indigenous Peoples in a sharing circle, or in what I have also heard referred to as a listening circle. This privilege was granted to me not only in the Edmonton area but also in regions across the country. In these circles, the Indigenous women and men who participated taught me a lesson which I consider invaluable, one for which I shall be forever grateful. I offer it as a lesson of great benefit to us all, one worthy of consideration as we mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It is simply this: in listening to the voice of another, we must listen with a readiness to be changed by what we hear.
Within the circle, the one who speaks receives the full attention of all other participants. The speaker expresses from the heart whatever he or she wishes to share. Everyone else listens in silence for whatever length of time the speaker needs. There are no interruptions, no efforts to cut short what is being offered. This reflects a profound respect for both the person of the speaker and the content of the sharing. Whatever is said is worthy of being heard. Everyone listens deeply in order to hear rightly. And as this occurs, something wonderful will often happen: minds are changed. Participants begin to understand differently, and the change of mind is often followed by a change in behaviour toward one another.
How different this is from the way people relate to one another in our country today! It is rare that we listen at all to others’ voices, caught up as we are in our own self-pursuits. When we do listen, it is usually in order to react, criticize, cut off, or shout over. Lately there has also developed the tendency to cancel the voice of another even before anything is spoken. We refuse even the possibility that our minds might be changed by what we hear. Walking together with the Indigenous has taught me how wrong-headed all that is. The only listening worthy of the name is that which seeks to hear, that wants to know and learn from what resides in the heart of another, and is even ready and willing to be challenged by what is said and be changed in our way of thinking and acting.
Let’s now keep all this in mind as we ponder the biblical texts for this mass. They summon all of us to allow our minds to be changed by listening to the Word of God. In the parable taught by Jesus about two sons, the one praised is the first who changed his mind, and thus altered his behaviour from disobedience to obedience. Echoing in the background is the Word of God spoken through Ezekiel, stating clearly that life comes to the wicked when they change their minds and thus their ways in obedience to the voice of God. As I listen to this today, I am reminded that, as a Christian, I must seek first the voice of Jesus before all others, and then implore the grace for my mind and hence behaviour to change from anything that is disobedient to his will. Jesus is, after all, the Son of God made flesh, the one in whom God’s very Word is spoken to us. He is the source of all wisdom; moreover, he is wisdom itself. And as I listen to Jesus, I must apply the lesson taught me by Indigenous Peoples. This means listening to the Lord in order really and deeply to hear him, to understand and be challenged by him, so that from his every Word I may be led by a change of mind and heart out of my sin and selfishness toward the fullness of life.
How does this speak to us all on the day for Truth and Reconciliation? Well, hear again what Saint Paul teaches us. He admonishes us to a change of mind, one so radical that we all become of one mind, the same mind that was in Christ Jesus. Here we find the key to real and lasting reconciliation, so let us consider carefully what it is for us all to have the mind of Christ.
St. Paul himself explains it: “though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” To have the mind of Christ is to lead a life of complete self-gift, as did our Lord. His own self-emptying arose from listening obediently to the voice of the heavenly Father. In us, it will flow from listening carefully to him, in whom God’s Word has taken flesh and leads us to one another and to life. In other words, reconciliation can become real and lasting, when we collectively listen to Jesus Christ, and change our minds by allowing his mind to become our own.
Obviously, having the mind of Christ is not something we can bring about ourselves. This can happen only by the grace of the Cross, on which Jesus made the supreme act of self-emptying by giving his very life that all people might be truly reconciled to God and to one another as God’s people. That grace reaches us here in the mass. As we celebrate the Eucharist, then, let us ask for the grace of listening hearts and changed minds so that we may humbly allow the Lord to lead us to the reconciliation he wills for us all.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Saint Joseph Basilica
September 30th, 2023